Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi claimed on Thursday that a breakthrough had been achieved in bringing the ULFA leadership to the negotiation table.
Gogoi, however, declined to comment on the arrest of the outlawed United Liberation Front of Assam chairman, Arabinda Rajkhowa, in Bangladesh on Wednesday and his handing over to India.
“All I can say is that a breakthrough has happened and maybe within a few hours or a few days, people will get to know the whereabouts of Rajkhowa,” Gogoi said.
He said he had talked with Home Minister P. Chidambaram about the development. In Delhi, however, Chidambaram said, “Media, by speculative reports, is only creating more confusion than is necessary.”
In Agartala, the National Liberation Front of Tripura announced that its president Biswamohan Debbarma had not been detained in Bangladesh along with Rajkhowa and Bodo militant leader Ranjan Daimari, as had been reported.
Gogoi said on Rajkhowa expressing his willingness to talk: “Signals are encouraging.” He said his government was ready to take any step to solve the problem. “If Rajkhowa wants safe passage, it should be given to him. It is my opinion,” he said.
Saying he hoped the ULFA would give up the “sovereignty” demand, he said the government had plans to release the seven jailed ULFA leaders.
Most of the common people that Hindustan Times spoke to wanted a permanent solution to the ULFA problem. Mandira Sarma, 65, a housewife in Guwahati, said the problem had slowed the state’s development and killed several thousands of people in three decades.
Dipanka Hazarika, 38, who works for the state government said: “Talks should be held immediately. Assam is an integral part of India.”
Earlier, Gogoi said on ULFA commander-in-chief Paresh Barua, who had been opposing peace talks: “The ULFA leadership should respect people’s desire for peace. They should abjure violence first and sit for talks with the government.”
But in Dibrugarh, Barua’s mother Miliki Barua, 84, said, “All the boys had set out together on a journey to achieve something for Assam. And if negotiations are held without my son, the whole process will be useless.”
(With inputs from agencies)